Each week, Prudie discusses a tricky letter with a colleague or friend, just for Slate Plus members. This week, Jenée Desmond-Harris discusses “Deal Breaker” with Slate senior editor Rebecca Onion.
I own a three-bedroom townhouse. One of the bedrooms is my dedicated office. My boyfriend of two years moved in six months ago. We are talking about marriage but taking it slow for his five-year-old son. He has a room here. He splits custody evenly with his ex. She has two older daughters as well.
Her rent has been raised so high she can’t afford her apartment anymore. She is making plans to move out of state to her parents’ place. My boyfriend has equal custody of his son and could take on full custody, but doesn’t want to separate his son from his mother and sisters. His idea is the entire family moves in temporarily with us and I give up my office, or he moves in with his ex to help out financially. Both of those solutions will kill our relationship.
My boyfriend is begging me not to make him choose between his son and me. I am not trying to. I am fine with his son moving in with us full time, but I can’t deal with his solutions. My heart is breaking here. Please help.
— Deal Breaker
Jenée Desmond-Harris: Not to be all Gender Wars about it, but I feel like when women get divorced and feel the need to prioritize shelter and care for their children, they simply take a break from dating and that is normal to everyone. While I love that this guy is hoping to make sure his 5-year-old is okay and putting his needs first, I just wish he would not try to drag a girlfriend into it, you know? Like, if you want to organize your life around your responsibilities as a dad right now, that’s very honorable. But don’t act like you can do it (at least not this way) while having a relationship.
Rebecca Onion: Yes, I find myself overwhelmed at the idea of ever being a person who could ask a significant other to do something like allow an entire family to move into their townhome, or allow me to move back in with my ex and this group of kids and play head-of-household again for a while. I just … would not do that. Is that because I’m female? Not sure!! And am I being staid and inflexible here? I’m not sure about that either, but I think either of those “solutions” are so difficult for the LW—and also, I have to imagine, confusing for the kids?—that they are not possible.
I have to wonder whether there could be some other practical solution. Does it have to be “out of state” where she moves? Could there be some other closer, smaller town that’s less expensive where she could live, that would still allow for co-parenting? Does the boyfriend have to move back in, or could they figure out some other financial arrangement, be it temporary or permanent? (If he’s going to move back in to “help out” with money, couldn’t he just … do that from afar?) But I feel like I’m missing the point by even brainstorming these kinds of fixes. These two seem like they are just not in the same zone right now.
Jenée: “If he’s going to move back in to “help out” with money, couldn’t he just…do that from afar?” This is a great question. I don’t want to be too messy, but I kind of feel like on some level, the boyfriend wants this emotionally intense, complicated situation where he lives with his ex or lives with his ex and his current girlfriend under one roof. I mean, a lot of people split up and co-parent and a lot of people struggle financially and you almost never hear about this arrangement. Because normal people would never want it!
So anyway, what do you think LW’s response should be to the boyfriend begging her not to make him choose? Explain that she’s not making him do anything? Or encourage him to move back in with the ex and then run in the other direction?
Rebecca: I don’t want to be messy either, but your note wondering whether he might kind of be drawn to this sort of drama strikes a chord with me. Some people are! At the very least, he doesn’t see the possibility of this kind of drama as prohibitive when he’s making his life plans. I’d be seriously worried about getting deeper into a relationship with this kind of person. Even if this particular scenario resolves to LW’s liking, they may find that down the road, their boyfriend’s lack of boundaries creates new issues.
All that is to say, I would try hard not to try to defend myself or overexplain my feelings in addressing this issue with him. You know what you need, LW, and I think you can just keep stating it. If he comes around to your point of view, I’d accept him “back,” but keep a very careful eye on him. This entire situation would sour me on him for sure!
Jenée: Six months from now: “Dear Prudence, My boyfriend’s ex, who was supposed to move in temporarily to help with a financial emergency, sometimes has nightmares and asks him to sleep in her bed to keep her company. He says I am insensitive for not being okay with it. Do I need to be more open-minded?” I can just picture it. Let’s not go down this road.